The picture captures Walt Pridgen perfectly - standing in a school garden, shovel in hand, guiding a student planting a tomato plant while wearing his signature boots, jeans, sunglasses and baseball cap.
He’s a farmer who realizes the importance of advocating for his profession. Whether it’s helping students plant a garden so they understand how food is grown or talking to consumers.
The farmer part isn’t much of a surprise. Pridgen, voted the 2019 Georgia Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers Member of the Year, has been getting his hands dirty on his family’s Coffee County farm for as long as he can remember.
The advocacy part? Not something he envisioned growing up.
“Seventeen-year-old Walt had no intention of farming, no intention of talking to people, no intention of being an advocate for anything really,” Pridgen said. “I was going to try to hit a baseball as far as I could and see where that got me.”
His mother, Kathy, encouraged him to try other things, but in the end, being outside, a farmer doing farm things, won out.
Pridgen attended South Georgia State College and then Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC), earning a bachelor’s degree in diversified agriculture from ABAC in 2017.
That summer he began working with Crosby Equipment Company in Douglas, continuing until earlier this year, when he joined the family farm full-time, helping his father, Jeffrey, and uncles Derek and Marshall.
As a group they have 23 poultry houses (11 belong to Jeffrey and Walt, his uncles have six each). Jeffrey and Walt maintain a herd of about 200 cattle and grow hay on 200 acres.
“It’s a good family situation where the brothers get along and don’t mind helping,” Walt said. “We’ve been blessed in that sense. A lot of families that probably farm the way we farm don’t get along well enough to help with anything.”
The Member of the Year Award, voted on by attendees at the GFB Young Farmers & Ranchers Summer Leadership Conference in July, is intended to recognize young farmers who encourage their peers and work in the community to promote agriculture.
Pridgen, who chairs the Coffee County Farm Bureau YF&R Committee and regularly talks ag with local residents and students, said he realized a need for advancing public awareness of agriculture when he was at ABAC, where some students were unaware of the origins of their food.
“Probably the biggest thing I learned at ABAC was how to deal with people, how to communicate with people, how to get along with people,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m a people person, but I am now more than I was then. The dealing with people part of everything and probably the business classes I took, I use that stuff every day.”
Pridgen was part of a group of ag students who launched ABAC’s Young Farmers & Ranchers Chapter affiliated with Georgia Farm Bureau.
“What got me started on it was sending a positive message about farming: This is why we farm. This is how we farm. This is where your food comes from, and this is why you need to know where your food comes from. People just don’t know,” Pridgen said.